Pricklebacks: Family Stichaeidae
Species: Cebidichthys violaceus (Girard, 1854); from the Greek cebidichthys (two words meaning Sapajou—a kind of monkey, and fish); and the Latin word violaceus (meaning violet).
Alternate Names: Monkeyface eel, blenny eel, monkeyface blenny. Called abrojo cara de mono in Mexico.
Identification: Typical eel shape. Adult fish have a lumpy ridge on the top of the head. Dorsal fin is about half spines and half soft rays. Uniform dull black, olive or gray with 2 darker bars radiating downward from the eye. Some fish have been noted with orange spots on the body or orange at the edge of the fins.
Size: Length to 30 inches. Most caught from piers are 12-24 inches long. The California record was a 7 Lbs 8 oz fish taken at Pescadero, San Mateo Co. in 2019. The diving record fish weighed 7 Lbs 5 oz and was taken at Carmel in 2013.
Range: Bahia San Quintin Bay, northern Baja California, to Netarts-Cape Mears, north Oregon. Common eastern-most Channel Islands, southern California, to northern California. Rarely seen south of Point Conception.
A monkeyface eel (prickleback) caught by “Turtle”
Habitat: Intertidal to 80 feet deep; common in shallow rocky areas.
Piers: Generally found at piers in rocky areas or where debris has accumulated at the base of the pier. Best bets: Monterey Coast Guard Pier (the best), Princeton Harbor Pier, Fort Point Pier, San Francisco Municipal Pier, Angel Island Pier and Elephant Rock Pier.
Shoreline: A favorite species for anglers fishing rocky areas and jettys from Point Conception to San Francisco (especially poke polers). Favored areas include Shell Beach (near Pismo Beach), rocks and jetties near the Golden Gate, rocks between Stinson Beach and Muir Beach, rocks between Bodega Bay and Dillon Beach, and rocks north of Crescent City.
Boats: An inshore species rarely take from boats.
Bait and Tackle: Medium tackle; size 4-2 hooks; cut bait (squid), shrimp, pile worms or fresh mussels. The eel’s most common food is crustaceans and algae.
Food Value: Excellent eating. Mild flavored, white colored flesh with no apparent flakes and a very firm texture. The flesh has low fat content and can be cooked many ways but poaching and steaming are favorites.
Comments: Very hard to catch from a pier. Will strike bait and then immediately head back to its rocky lair. Anglers must strike quickly and then keep the pressure on the fish to force it away from the rocks. More commonly caught by “poke poling” in rocky areas along the shoreline.